Marriage and Patriarchy

Anita Magsaysay-Ho "Women Feeding Chickens"

By Marv Wheale

Marriage is an ancient yet contemporary institution. Its cultural allure lies in its ability to appeal to aspirations for love, happiness and identity. Ceremonial bonding is a way of tying individuals together in pursuit of a fulfilling future.

You can’t fault couples for wanting a marvelous life but the troubles with marriage are many.  I will examine two:

– wallpapers over unequal social conditions between men and women

– demotes intimate nonsexualized relationships (friends, siblings, humans with other animals) to a lower status

Sexual Politics Surrounding Marriage

Marriage as an established fixture of society veils the divisions of power between men and women in the face of intimacy between them. Quite simply, women do not have equal standing to men even when mutual fondness is deep: assigned sex roles at home / unpaid reproductive labor / unequal pay in the labor market / disproportionate participation in governments / lack of representation as heads of large companies, police, courts and the military / sexual harassment, rape, battering and murder /  sexual objectification in porn, other media and prostitution.  All these factors are compounded by race, economic class, disability, size, age…

Because marriage obscures these disadvantages it makes it hard to organize against male power. Mobilizing energy becomes diverted into “marriage interest” which sinks scads of material and emotional resources into something that can’t satisfy our deepest longings. Essentially it is counterproductive to invest so much into what is unable to deliver what it promises to women and men as social groups. Of all the identities that affirm women’s subordination in patriarchy, marriage may be the most influential.

LGBTQ+ marriages are a reform but they retain the effect of sanctioning an institution made by patriarchy. Any improvement to the system further legitimizes it. Think of the touted vegan capitalism, animal welfare measures, feminist porn, sex object work heralded as bridges to liberation. Contradictory movements won’t bring emancipatory results. They are liberal illusions.

Outliers

To further grasp the implications of marriage you have to recognize how it constructs those outside its borders. The unmarried are relegated to a subservient social position on the basis of not measuring up to the marital model. Living in different kinds of connections they are less than. This is evident not only at the level of cultural nonrecognition but in the laws of the land. State sanctioned sexual relationships afford all kinds of rewards:  income tax deductions, mortgage loans, adopting children, access to a partner’s social security benefits, medical insurance privileges, hospital visitation rights, advance directives in dying, survivor rights and inheritance beneficiaries, immigration rights, next of kin rights, etc.

Counter Arguments to Marriage Criticism

People will say it’s an oversimplification to see marriage as irredeemably sexist and lording over platonic relationships.  After all, myriads of women are happily married.  From this standpoint, more sensitivity and credit should be given to particular examples of marriage where both spouses have demonstrated alignment with feminist objectives and respect the relationship pluralism of the unmarried.  They propose all legal and economic advantages of marriage be extended to alternative relationships.

Furthermore, numerous underprivileged couples find marriage to be a refuge from white supremacy, economic adversity, abled dominance and hetero-primacy.  They claim while marriage has its downsides for women it is less burdensome than the more overbearing problems of racism, classism, ableism, heterosexism.  What’s important to them is to centre marriage on reciprocity and resistance to social injustices.  In these cases marriage is deemed to strengthen working class, racial, disability and LGBTQ+ struggles and they, in turn, fortify it.

Vegan marriages are held up as a way to publicly express emotional attachment, shared values and the cause of animal liberation.  The reasoning and feelings are similar to other social justice-minded marriages.

Final Remarks

Yes, not all marriages are equal but the dispute against matrimony is political since it is a political entity. The idea that consensual marriage can be good or bad depending on mutual respect, affection and solidarity, clouds the reality of sex classes and privatizing women within them. It also downgrades those who don’t belong to it, culturally and legally, undeterred by the progressive optimism of open-minded married people.

Surely people can and do have intimacy and political activism without nuptial ties.

Violence towards women by men is a system of power.  Much of it happens within a spousal setting. Why promote an oppressive form that disguises the structural occupation of men in women’s lives?

Couldn’t we make intersectionality more inclusive of battered women by critiquing marriage as a fabrication?  We know gender, race, ability and class are social constructs, why can’t we ascertain marriage as one too?

Do we tend to cling to socially learned habits that prevent us from scrutinizing our worldviews?

I am not calling on married people to separate or divorce.  That would be arrogant, reckless and absurd. It’s not individuals fault for being socialized into societal norms and values. My invitation is, to put aside resistance to questioning and challenging our institutionalization into ways of thinking, feeling, living.

 


Marv is a moderator for the Vegan Feminist Network Facebook page.

Why Food Justice is a Feminist Issue

In an interview with Alternet’sHere’s Why Our Food Systems are a Central Feminist Issue,” I was asked to elaborate on women’s contributions to critical food justice and how current sexual politics inhibit or even invisiblize women’s contributions today.

Both the Nonhuman Animal rights movement and the environmental movement, I note, were established by women who strategically employed stereotypes about women’s proper role in nurturing and caring. This strategy was necessary to gain access to the public sphere in an era in which women were expected to remain inside the home and well outside of politics.

Unfortunately, this feminization persists in modern food justice efforts. Sociological and psychological research supports that environmental and vegan campaigns and products are less likely to find male support simply due to this feminization. This gender divide translates into a serious barrier to success given that men’s recognition is necessary for a movement to gain legitimacy in a patriarchal society.

Rather than celebrate women’s contributions to anti-speciesist efforts, the vegan movement has opted to elevate men in campaigning and leadership. This, to me, is indicative of intersectional failure. Patriarchal bargains are unlikely to liberate Nonhuman Animals given the historical relationship between sexism and speciesism:

… the fact that men have to be involved to bring legitimacy to a cause demonstrates that we still haven’t come to terms with the underlying ideological roots to oppression.

Readers can access the entire interview here.

 


Corey Lee WrennDr. Corey Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology and past Director of Gender Studies (2016-2018) with Monmouth University. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She received her M.S. in Sociology in 2008 and her B.A. in Political Science in 2005, both from Virginia Tech. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and was elected Chair in 2018. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute. She has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave MacMillan 2016). Subscribe to Dr. Wrenn’s newsletter for research updates.

Dealing with Sexism Requires Initiative

Perhaps one of the most crucial rational strategies for achieving animal liberation which I explore in my book, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights, is the firm rejection of sexism. In a movement that is mostly ranked by women but dominated by men, sexism becomes irrational in that it:

1. Counters social justice values
2. Disempowers 80% of the movement, and
3. Discredits the movement in the larger social movement arena.

Dealing with sexism requires initiative. Male-identified leaders must take their position seriously, and part of that serious consideration will entail ceding some or all of that leadership to marginalized demographics. Male leaders should take reports of sexism and sexual violence seriously and have absolutely no tolerance for it. It will take more than waiting for the marginalized to point out problems. Advocates with privilege must start identifying it and rejecting it themselves. They must create a strategy to prevent it from happening in the first place. Those in a position of power are those who must take the initiative to create a safer, just, and rationally consistent movement.

This is not to say that rank-and-file folks will not be involved in this goal as well. Neither is it only men who should pay attention to this problem. Advocates of any gender must take these reports seriously and support one another.

For further reading and inspiration, check out our essay, “Tips for Male Allies.”


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology and past Director of Gender Studies (2016-2018) with Monmouth University. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She received her M.S. in Sociology in 2008 and her B.A. in Political Science in 2005, both from Virginia Tech. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and was elected Chair in 2018. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute. She has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave MacMillan 2016).

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Why This Vegan Doesn’t Watch Nature Programs

I used to love nature programs as a kid. I was always a lover of animals. Yet, the older I get, the less patience I have for them. In fact, I boycott them now almost entirely because of those inevitable scenes of death and suffering (scenes which film-makers actually spend months hoping to capture to give some “excitement” to their documentary) are just too traumatizing for me. 

Some of the most graphic and unsettling scenes I witnessed as a child I can still recount today. A wildebeest disemboweled by lions as they kick and scream for life; hyenas attacking a lioness, leaving her to die slowly from a broken jaw and thirst in the African heat; a pod of orcas drowning a baby humpback whale for fun after their mother struggles for hours to protect them, etc.

Even March of the Penguins, rated G and presumably kid-friendly, was, to me, a deeply upsetting film that spotlighted families separated by predation and the cruel slow deaths from exposure and starvation that were sentenced to dependent partners and chicks.

 

When I was younger, I felt the need to toughen up and force myself to watch. After all, “that’s how it really is,” or so the mantra goes. But now I see it for what it is: the glorification of violence and a forced attempt to frame nature (a generally peaceful space predominantly characterized by coexistence and symbiosis) as a brutish, merciless world. These programs become an ideological justification for the violent society that humans have constructed.

The incantation of “That’s how it really is” encourages society to stifle compassion, peace, and non-violence. By way of another example, the same intention is associated with war movies. Audiences are expected to sit through graphic scenes of boys and men killing other boys and men because “that’s how it really is.” Relentless images of violence against women, which appear to be mandated in modern script-writing, demand the same. Likewise, activists are expected to toughen up and absorb imagery of violence against Nonhuman Animals committed by humans through endless posts on vegan social media spaces, again, because “that’s how it really is.”

The catch is that violence is not really how it is all of the time, or even most of the time. Media is a social construction. What is being presented is consciously fabricated by authors, directors, nonprofit leaders, and others who have an agenda to increase ratings or donations. There is also an agenda to protect the powers that be by ensuring society that inequality is a fact of life. This is a narrative of violence, hierarchy, and patriarchal dominance that is only one perspective, but it becomes a dominant ideology, drowning out alternatives.

As I found my feminist groundings, I finally “toughened up,” but not in the way that Big Media expected me to. I grew the confidence to say no and reject this narrative. I change the channel; I tune out. I realize now that don’t have to punish myself to adhere to patriarchal norms that expect me to suppress my empathy and be ashamed of finding violence abhorrent. To me this isn’t entertainment, it’s indoctrination, and there’s got to be something better on.

 

A version of this essay was first published on The Academic Activist Blogger on December 19, 2015.


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology and Director of Gender Studies with a New Jersey liberal arts college, council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association, and an advisory board member with the International Network for Social Studies on Vegetarianism and Veganism with the University of Vienna. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory.

whyveganism.com

Three Reasons Why Veganism Needs Diversity

Two girls in hijabs caring for a cat. Reads, "Effective Advocacy Requires Diversity; Cite Women; Celebrate Women; Patriarchy never helped anyone"

Diversity matters in the vegan movement for three reasons.

First, social movement research indicates that a diversity of representatives will be more likely to resonate with a diverse audience, and a diverse audience is needed for social change.

Second, a diversity in leadership provides role models, which attracts and nurtures a diverse activist pool. Social psychological research supports that marginalized people find a sense of agency and belonging when they see people like them doing important work.

Third, a white-centric/male-centric movement relies on the very same hierarchies of power that facilitate speciesism.  As Audre Lorde famously stated, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

Here is my challenge to you. Try going an entire week without citing, referencing, or promoting a male leader or a male-led project. Replace them with women/of color doing similar work. Highlight diversity instead of spotlighting privilege.

Then, expand your practice. Make it a habit to promote diversity in Nonhuman Animal rights spaces instead of defaulting to the status quo of men, all day, every day. Double-down on your anti-speciesism politics by maintaining an intersectional lens.

 


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology and past Director of Gender Studies (2016-2018) with Monmouth University. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She received her M.S. in Sociology in 2008 and her B.A. in Political Science in 2005, both from Virginia Tech. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and was elected Chair in 2018. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute. She has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave MacMillan 2016).

What is Heganism?

Actor Joaquin Phoenix poses for a portrait in Beverly Hills. He has a huge beard and is looking very scruffy.

Vegan actor Joaquin Phoenix

Heganism. Yes, it’s a thing. It’s veganism…for men. “Heganism” generally refers to the rebranding of traditional vegan concepts or products to be suitable for male consumption.

But why?

The vegan movement is crowded with 101 different variations of veganism, all with one intention: sales and fundraising. It’s non-profit marketers asking the team, “How can we make our own stamp on this trend? How can we stand out against the rest? How do we make them buy here and not somewhere else?”

Gender distinction generally serves capitalist interests, and it does so by maintaining difference and inequality. Gendering products mean that households need to buy more than one product that might otherwise be shared (and women’s products often cost more). The blue, industrial one for him; the pink, flowery (and more expensive) one for her.

Gendering can also open up products to a larger market. The feminine stigma must be removed so that men can feel comfortable consuming them; but the stigma doesn’t disappear, it’s only reinforced. Like the guy-etDr. Pepper 10, and lotion “for men,” gendering veganism works to protect masculinity by otherizing that which is feminine.

What’s wrong with dieting, drinking diet soda, using body lotion, or eating vegan? It’s what women stereotypically do, and women are one of the most detested and devalued groups in society. In order for men to participate, the stigma must be removed by creating a “masculine” alternative.

A father and son in a sea of fruit and vegetables, only their faces are peaking out

Introducing more men to veganism is important for the health of the vegan movement and for the health of boys and men (most of whom do not consume the recommended amount of fruit and veg). But male inclusivity should not come at the cost of women’s rights. Photo credit: The Advertiser.

Masculinity is defined largely in what it is not–and it is not feminine.  This works much in the same way as speciesism: we define humanity in being not animal, and therefore humanity is superior by comparison.  This is also thought to be one of the root causes of heterosexism: masculinity is defined by ostracizing that which is feminine. In other words, differentiating persons into groups and then placing them on a hierarchy to support these differentiations feeds structural discrimination.

Distinction greases the wheels of oppression.

PETA ad showing a nude woman laying on a giant bunch of broccoli; reads, "EAT YOUR VEGGIES"

In my book, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights, I explore the theme of feminist repackaging in vegan spaces. Because veganism is so feminized, it is deemed a threat to patriarchy and it is often dismissed. One reaction that organizations take is to actually buy into the language of patriarchy in order to “sell” veganism.

So, instead of remaining firm in radical feminist opposition to patriarchal oppression, vegans sometimes repackage veganism as “sexy” and present women as consumable objects for male consumption. PETA is probably the most notable organization in this regard, but its dominant position in the movement means that is is influencing a norm of pornographic protest. Vegan women are no longer changemakers, they’re just another “exotic” taste served up on the patriarchal platter. Take this Tumbler “heganism” gallery as one very literal example (warning, contains pornography).

There is a real danger in aggravating sexist attitudes about Nonhuman Animal rights activism.  “Heganism” is unnecessary and offensive. Is a feminized vegan space so repugnant that men need to spin off into a separate space in order to participate? If so, we need to back up and reevaluate our approach. So long as the movement supports the hating of women, it can’t reasonably expect its audience to stop hating other animals.

Heganism is a tactic that undermines itself. If activists inadvertently support the notion that veganism is “just for women” and that men will be stigmatized if they participate in “regular” veganism without the masculinity facade to protect them, this is doing the movement a disservice. Instead of pandering to patriarchy and capitalism to be heard, activists could instead incorporate a feminist approach to anti-speciesism. In this way, all interests are considered, and one group will not be demeaned for the hoped benefit of another.

Capitalists will inevitably argue that gendering veganism is simply catering to the market, but they are actually creating a market with approaches of this kind (LEGO makes the same disingenuous claim about its gendered products). A market built on oppression, one that functions to divide groups along lines of power and powerlessness, will not be a space that is conducive to liberation.

 


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She received her M.S. in Sociology in 2008 and her B.A. in Political Science in 2005, both from Virginia Tech. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and was elected Chair in 2018. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute. She has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave MacMillan 2016).

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